Tom Warner was your classic nerd, reserved, devoid of many social graces, and having no life aside from his work. He was outwardly happy all the same, in his small world, with few friendships and only a large gray cat named "Mac" to share his evenings. Tom had given the cat, a big male, that particular appellation because he had befriended the animal in a nearby McDonald's parking lot. Tom and Mac were a near perfect match--each ventured out into mainstream society only on necessity-- usually in quest of food or sex.
Tom worked as a research scientist for a firm which produced electrical products. They had been hesitant to take him on five years ago as he seemed over qualified for the position and talked a bit too eagerly about some far fetched ideas of his own. Nevertheless, Tom proved he was both sober and dedicated, able to reign in his natural curiosity and lead his team in developing marketable products along the company's lines.
One of their most profitable lines was stage lighting and several of their devices used for back lighting and special effects had become status symbols among entertainers. This trend caused a meteoric rise in the company's stock and got Tom named "Engineer of the Year".
After that Tom was able to convince the senior executives, a panel of cold blooded, purveyors of profit--to allow him the leeway to launch one of his own ideas.
For the previous half year Tom's team had been doing R&D on an innovative strobe light. The light was designed to project blue flashes on variable frequencies which could encompass an entire stage area or could be adjusted to concentrate upon one performer. When so adjusted, it seemed to form a ghostly halo around the entertainer. As the light pulsed, an optical illusion was created wherein the entertainer's movements appeared to be "freeze framed". Instead of the fluid motion with which the star was actually moving, the light divided movements into strobes or flashes, lending a jerky rhythm. Against the ghostly halo, the effect was vaguely reminiscent of early film which made subjects move so quickly as to appear comical. Then an even more curious thing happened: the light took on a power of its own. It seemed to key itself to the performers rhythm--the faster the performer moved the faster the light pulsed, and this worked in reverse as well.
There was still one more aspect of Tom's innovation of which he alone was aware and which he could not share with his team for legal and ethical reasons. Tom knew from his own experience during his college days at M.I.T. that the use of marijuana could greatly enhance the perception of certain phenomena in certain subjects. The germ for his present project had originated back there in the dorm with a few of his classmates, which in those days might have gotten them all ejected. When they combined pot and strobe with heavy metal music, they experienced some bizarre but highly pleasurable sensations, which beggared even their own descriptive powers later.
After graduation, Tom was compelled by obligations to repay student loans and other realities, to put aside such "nonsense" and concentrate on serious and more practical pursuits. However, his recent success at BIG APPLE LABORATORIES, INC. finally afforded him the opportunity to trot out his pet project, which until this time he'd had to confine to his garage. Now he was able to "come out" with his toy and engage the multi-million dollar research facility and team in its development; albeit, certain of its attributes must remain with him alone.
What's needed, Tom mused, is some private way to test this thing without legal or ethical liability. Then the perfect plan emerged one morning in the bathroom--but of course, Mac the cat, would be the ideal subject. Tom had a prototype of the light at home which he had assembled and updated concomitant with work at the lab. Carefully, he placed the apparatus over Mac who lounged in shameless luxury on the couch and watched GOOD MORNING, AMERICA. But Tom was hardly prepared for the result.
Moments after the light was electrified, Mac began to exhibit altered behavior. First his posture changed from his normal flaccid state where he would drape off either side of Tom's hand when lifted from wherever he happened to be sprawled. He pushed himself up into a back-bowed, tail-fluffed, and menacing stance. Within another few seconds he was barring his fangs and hissing, something Tom had never before witnessed in his adopted pet. The animal's eyes also appeared crossed and unable to focus. Tom moved quickly to snap off the light and tried to calm and reassure his pet.
"Hey, BIG MAC, what's the matter, it's just a light, I thought you'd like it. I didn't mean to startle you, honest!" But it took a few seconds for the effects to pass and in the meantime, Mac crouched to spring at Tom who jumped back and dragged the light apparatus away from the couch, hoping Mac would "understand" that the threat was being removed. In the seconds it took to do that, the cat resumed his passive and aloof indifference to everything except the TV screen.
Tom was shaken and greatly perplexed by the experience but there was no time at the moment to dwell on it, he had to rush now to the lab.
In the cafeteria that noon Tom tried to confer with a colleague about the phenomenon he'd experienced that morning but he had to cast it in the abstract since he didn't want to admit what he was up to at home. Some at the office already considered him a recluse and concluded many remarks with "Get a life, Warner". So in this case, the colleague simply looked puzzled at Tom's scientific hypothesis and replied, "Tom, you're working too hard. You gotta let down, buddy. Know what you need? Go out to a sleazy bar, get blind drunk, pick up some gal, go shack up and watch skin flicks all weekend and don't even answer the phone!"
Tom looked up blankly from the napkin on which he was scribbling a formula, and said, "What. . .?"
"Hopeless", replied the colleague and dipped his spoon into the algae green of his split pea with ham.
Obviously, there was going to be no help forth coming from his mercenary coworkers, Tom had another idea!
Now living in NYC, he had the luxury of indulging his single other passion which afforded him brief respites from work. His bachelor townhouse was just blocks from the off Broadway theater district. To help defray the costs of his frequent visits there he often volunteered his expertise in consulting with stage lighting, even doing some wiring and adjusting. Some of the actors and actresses came to love this "genius" who could soften the lighting so as to make them look years younger. When they discovered Tom was naturally shy, some of the women exploited every opportunity to make him blush. One once said in appreciation of his work, "Tom, right after the final curtain call, I want you to come to my dressing room--I'm going to take you to bed!" Everyone back stage heard and laughed including Tom in spite of his redness.
Perhaps there was some opportunity for a test of his innovation in a local production. A survey of play bills showed Shakespearean works, comedies, and musicals but nothing that seemed quite right. He couldn't risk distracting the performers at critical moments. Then as he perused THE VILLAGE VOICE he noticed a rock musical headed by someone he knew Mica Monroe. Reaching for the phone, Tom said to himself, "If I know Mick he'll go for anything he believes might get him rave reviews and the more sensational the gimmick, the better." He got Mick's answering machine and so he left a message, "Mick, buddy, it's Tom Warner. Look, I've got this new light system I've invented and I'm almost lyrical--if you can imagine that--about what it can do for a stage performance! I can't explain it on the phone but if you're willing to have a look, I could bring it down to the theater tonight. We could even do a dry run before the show. Whadda ya think? Gimme a call. You know my number. . .you wrote it in the palm of your hand! But in case you've showered since then, here it is again. . .!"
Throughout the afternoon Tom puttered with his project, still puzzled over the strange reaction of Mac the day before. Now and then Tom glanced at Mac for signs of flash backs but Mac would swivel his head around to his master and allow him one second of attention before rotating back to the T.V. screen.
"You lazy cat!", Tom said. This got no look at all, but only a barely perceptible flick of the tail tip. Finally Tom despaired of a return call, knowing Mick to be highly unpredictable. He said aloud, "That idiot probably hasn't even checked his messages. I'll just go down there." He speculated that Mick might be off somewhere in his motor home recreating or sleeping while his soul mate, Cindy, drives furiously back towards the Big Apple, running late as usual. Hordes of adoring fans would wait all night if necessary for their beloved idol.
Tom prepared to give Mac his Kitty Victuals and saucer of milk and it took only opening the cupboard to bring the cat trotting eagerly to the kitchen and mewing. Tom said in mock disparagement, "That got your attention, didn't it? To hell with Lawrence Welk reruns when there is food, eh, Mac?" As he put on his jacket and shoes, Tom continued to berate the overweight feline for his indolence, but Mac ignored the background noise and worked lustily at his bowl.
At the alley entrance, he was privileged to use, Tom was admitted by stage manager, Nathan. "Hi, Tom, what's up? You're a little early for the show." "Oh hi ya, Nate. Look I got this new light system I'd like to show you and I'd also like for Mick to see it. . .is he here yet?"
"You kidding? An hour before he goes on? That would make it too easy for me! I talked with Cindy about forty minutes ago and they were just crossing the George Washington Bridge. Damn, I hope he's not too late. . .we already got half a house of fans and I've smelled 'grass' smoke. . .hope that's as bad as it gets!"
Tom chuckled in envy, "What a job. . .and they pay you too?"
"Well, somebody's gotta do it! Let's look at your contraption."
Tom unzipped the tote bag and hauled out the components as he said, "This, Sir, is no contraption, but a state-of-the-art lighting system designed to capitalize upon the idiosyncrasies of the performer by establishing a symbiotic reciprocity between the psychic aura and an electromagnetic field created by this light."
Nate slapped his forehead and cried, "Would you speak English already?"
Tom said, O.K., what happens is we've incorporated a sensor like, well similar to what you have in an ordinary security light. It senses motion within its field and it comes on but instead of burning steadily, it strobes. We take that impulse of motion and run it through a synthesizer which is hooked up to a camera which is recording images of the performer and feeding those to the synthesizer which in turn correlates them with the strobe."
Nate rolled his eyes, "And I asked for the English version! Just tell me what effect it's gonna have on what the audience sees."
Tom said, "I thought you'd never ask, Nate! They're gonna love it and I think Mick will too. It kinda enshrouds whoever is center stage in a bluish halo and the strobe can be set to come on at certain points in a song. I can also switch the focus to any one of the side men, like the drummer when he is being featured. What the strobe does is segment the motion so that the whole is accentuated. The thing has generated a lot of excitement among those who've seen it but admittedly it has a few bugs yet."
"Bugs? That's just what I need, Tom, right before a show. Maybe I'll take a rain check until we have more time to look at it?"
"Sure, Nate, no problem. I'm scheduled to show it to Andrea over at the Encore Theater tomorrow afternoon, maybe if all goes well there you could. . ."
"All right, already! I get the message! You go ahead and start setting up but don't waste it on the yokels who are gonna warm 'em up for the main act. As soon as Mick arrives I'll tell him what you're up to. You two know each other well and I'm sure he trusts your judgment, I don't think he will object unless he's. . .well, you know how he gets sometimes?"
Tom set up his equipment and did his checks and the local band was ready to go on and still the star hadn't arrived. Tom knew he had to act quickly or this small window of opportunity would be lost. Mick's own musicians were all present, milling about back stage. Tom ran and got the lead guitarist who he knew doubled as engineer, the one in charge of arranging the amplifiers and microphones on stage and doing the sound checks. That way when it was time to go on stage, each member carried his or her instrument to the assigned place and plugged in. The engineer usually worked in tandem with the stage manager in a concerted effort to bring about the best show possible. One of them knew the acoustics of that particular theater and its lighting system; while the other knew the stars preferences, neuroses, strengths, and weaknesses as well as the group's repertoire.
Tom said, "Say Jerry, the warm up group is getting sweaty to go on and Mick's still not here so maybe you could show me his stage positions so I can aim my lights?"
"Sure, Tom, no problem, man." He stood in each position he knew the star would occupy during the performance. Tom marked these on the floor with chalk and adjusted the lights accordingly. Then he gave a high sign to the stage manager who signaled the M.C. to introduce the first act.
Tom knew the procedure well; there was no predetermined time for the warm up group to play but rather it was their job to keep the audience occupied until the main act was ready. He took his off-stage seat at the control panel of his system, to wait.
The audience tolerated the local group and gave polite applause. "Everybody has to pay dues", Tom mused to himself, hardly aware of what the group was playing. Suddenly the lights went up and the crowd went wild. The announcer's voice was drowned by the roar. Tom didn't need to hear the name, he simply worked his controls to put Mick into the halo. He thought to himself, this is a calculated risk but here goes nothing.
The lights dimmed and Mick walked on stage. If the crowd had been noisy in their anticipation, now they rioted. The singer launched his first number but had to pause and bow several times and wave to his crazed fans to fill the time until he could be heard again. He himself wouldn't be able to see the effect the lights were having but he certainly would be fed by the audience's exuberance.
Tom sat at the controls, ready to deactivate the system at the first sign of trouble but fearing how that might disrupt the show. So far, so good he thought. When the right lines came up, Tom activated the strobe. The effect was colossal. The noise actually subsided somewhat but the crowd seemed mesmerized. They swayed with the singer and chanted with the lyrics. Then there was a cut to an instrumental break. Tom stopped the strobe and switched the halo to the lead guitarist. First he focused on the guitar, a Fender Stratocaster with triple pick up and cabled in to an amplifier as big as a truck. Then he enlarged the focus in stages like ripples on water until it took in Jerry's face and body as well.
Then they cut away to the drummer and Tom who was flying by the seat of his pants. They switched on the strobe again and the drummer, Enrico was completely unaware that his symphony of rhythm was being changed by the light into a close study of muscular dexterity producing a mixture of violence and finesse. Was it slowed down? Was it speeded up? Was it distorted? The crowd didn't know and didn't care.
They were stoned and they in another dimension. Then they cut back to the star and Tom stopped the strobe and changed its threshold setting so that it took its cue from Mick's movements and volume to tell it when to start. When it did, the walls trembled with audience reaction. In the press box, reporters scribbled frantically by their flashlights to try and get down a few words or phrases to describe what was happening around them. None of them had experienced anything of this intensity before.
It was then that Tom first noticed the change in Mick. The lyrics he sang were the same as his fans had come to know and love but something was different about his face. He appeared angry and flushed deep red and his eyes looked menacing. His voice had become more ragged also as it often did late in a concert. He tended to do this but usually not so early. A voice consultant had advised him to pace himself or he might not make it through a long set.
Tom started to sweat. He wondered if Mac's behavior was to be repeated in Mick. Tom was using no substances at all. He hadn't even had a drink all day. Yet there was no denying that a change was taking place. He made himself close his eyes for a long moment and then look again. Sure enough Mick's features were altered somehow as though he were in caricature with grotesque features.
Tom was even more startled when he looked at what he could see of the audience. Those in the first few rows appeared disfigured in similar fashion. Had they brought Halloween masks with them and slipped them on when he wasn't looking? Tom was baffled and very worried that what he was seeing wasn't totally benign. He was greatly relieved when the first set ended.
Mick exited the stage abruptly and went straight to his dressing room where he was met by Cindy who greeted him, "Hi, honey, you were great but what's with the lights?"
Mick didn't answer but locked the door and turned on Cindy. "How the hell would you know, you weren't even watching!" Then he grabbed her by her long hair and jerked her face up toward his. Cindy screamed in pain and shock. Never had she known Mick to be violent and his eyes seemed utterly evil.
She wailed, "Mick, you're hurting me. . .please, what did I do?"
Through clenched teeth he said, "You witch!" and slapped her hard across the face. Again she cried out and he drew back to strike again when there came a frantic banging on the door and familiar voices called out.
Mick aborted the attack and put his hands to his head, then turned and unlocked the door.
Nate and Jerry were framed in the doorway and behind them several others tiptoed to see into the small and cluttered room. Eyes darted from Mick to Cindy and back. Nate said, "What's goin on, Mick? Is everything O.K.?"
Mick seemed dazed and confused. "I. . .dunno. . .I have this splitting headache. . .just came on suddenly. . .I think I blacked out there for a second!" Then he noticed Cindy slumped on the floor crying. "What's wrong, Hon?", He exclaimed in genuine surprise, turning her face upward, and they all saw her lip now swelling to a fat lump. "God! Did I do this? I can't believe it! He turned to the others who were now joined by Tom. Jerry looked puzzled and Nate simply looked down toward his shoes.
Cindy was saying, "It's nothing, Mick, I slipped and fell, that's all" she lied.
Jerry lunged forward and took Cindy's chin in his hands and turning on Mick, snapped, "The hell you did! I heard screams!" Mick reeled under an onslaught of emotions--embarrassment, fear, and anger, said, "Dammit, Jerry, I don't know. . .I mean. . .it's like I just lost it there for a couple seconds and I don't even know why."
Jerry placed himself between Mick and Cindy and nudged her toward the door. "Let's get you to the emergency room. I don't like the looks of that lip."
Cindy protested, "No, no -I'll be fine." She gingerly tested the lip, now so swollen it was affecting her speech. "Ret's glow home", she said, embracing Mick who hugged her and led the way through the crowd at the door.
Nate and Jerry looked at each other and said in unison, "Now what?"
Nate said, "Well, we've got show half done and a crowd already cued up outside for a second show - and no star. I don't know about the rest of you but I'm gonna run for it!"
None was more perplexed than Tom though he was privy to things the others couldn't know, there were still many questions.
Nate and Jerry were collaborating over their dilemma. "Hell, I don't know - just go out there and tell 'em he got sick; just came down with some bug!"
Tom debated whether to take the two into his confidence but decided against it. By doing this unauthorized test of the light, he was doing something unethical which could get him fired from his well-paying job and it might even have far reaching legal implications. But so far, no one else had made the connection between the light system and the violence. Maybe he'd just keep this to himself until he could check it out. After all, he couldn't prove anything.
He packed up the light system and slipped out the back stage door to his car parked in the alley. Tom was able to get away before the wrath of the frustrated crowd was unleashed.
On the way home he recounted the performance. The audience had calmed down immediately after he switched off the light. At the flick of the switch their distorted faces returned to normal leaving no sign of abnormality. It had to be an optical illusion. It could not be physically real. But the altered behavior, first in Mac, and now in Mick, could not be explained away so conveniently.
Mac bounded from his couch bed to meet Tom, assuming it was now play time, but Tom picked him up and turned the cat's face toward his. Nothing in those green eyes gave any indication of an answer to the mystery that haunted Tom. Neither did the soft purr that came from somewhere deep with the animal. Tom deposited Mac and the light system on the carpet and prepared for bed. Sleep on it, he thought, many an answer has come that way.
From troubled sleep the light flashed at the frequency of a machine gun and Tom groaned but then became aware he wasn't reliving events in the theater - he was in his bed, Mac was hissing from underneath the bed, and the light was on! Tom struggled up and saw his legs move in a jerky rhythm toward the wall switch. He snapped it on which mostly neutralized the light which was out of the tote bag, plugged into a wall outlet, and working like never before. "How in hell?. . .Now I know damn well I didn't plug that in. . .Someone else is in this friggin' house! He stepped quickly away from the hall entrance, pulled open a drawer, and gripped his hand gun. He snapped off the ceiling light, then as an afterthought he whispered to himself, "Where is that damn flashlight?" Unable to find it, he had to explore room to room with stealth.
Now fully awake, he found himself hopping and squatting police fashion and holding the revolver with both hands. He wondered if he should yell out, "POLICE! FREEZE!" Tom made a circle of the apartment, upstairs and down and found no burglar nor anything else out of the ordinary. Even the deadbolt was set. He returned to his bedroom where Mac still cowered in his refuge beneath the bed. Each strobe of the light made his eyes glint. In annoyance Tom ripped the plug from the outlet so violently the end was ripped off. He stood now in darkness and fingered the raw wires. The luminescent face of his clock told him it was 3:04 A.M.
Tom put on the bedside lamp and slumped to the mattress still holding the light cord with its frayed end. "That ought to stop you, you." Mac now ventured out and placed his paws against Tom's knees asking permission to leap up. Tom caught the cat around the rib cage and placed his nose close to Mac's and said, "Mac, if I find you're responsible for this. . ." He contemplated the animal who simply rumbled softly. ". . .Oh, forget it. Let's go back to bed."
Later that morning, Tom arose and glanced apprehensively at the light system which lay disarmed, its plug still sticking in the outlet with no cord attached. There's only one answer to this, he thought. Something about this thing causes short term memory loss and it also provokes violence.
May as well call Mick and Cindy, he thought, and see they are willing to talk about last night. Mick groped for the phone in the half light leaking around the drapes. "Your dime, my time!"
"I believe its a quarter these days", Tom said, "You're behind the times, Pal. Get up and put the coffee on!"
"Just WHO is this?", the sleep laden voice demanded.
"It's Tom, who the hell else would bug you this time of day on a weekend?"
"I might have known", Mick grumbled.
"See ya in a bit."
"Thanks for the warning!"
Tom dressed hurriedly and drove to Mick's apartment. His host opened the door with "Shhhh, Cindy's still asleep."
"Good, I want to talk with you about the fight last night."
Tom looked incredulously at Mick. "You mean you don't remember anything about it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, man? What in the hell happened. Cindy won't tell me anything either, like why she was crying."
Tom explained about the mysterious scuffle that had injured Cindy and how Mick himself seemed confused and almost oblivious. Mick just shook his head and studied his house slippers. Tom went on to explain his suspicions that it was somehow related to the light system. At mention of the light, Mick brightened.
"Yeah, that light was like. . .wow, man! I just had time for Nate to tell me that you had some wild, new gadget you were gonna use if it was O.K. with me, and I said, 'no problem', I'm sure Tom knows what he's doing. Now, tell about this thing, how does it work?"
Tom knew the best way to avoid technicalities that he himself couldn't fully understand was to make it seem formidable so he reeled off the same explanation he'd used on Nate.
Mick threw up his hands and replied, "I don't know what you just said but I loved the effect on the audience. I mean, man, they were with me like never before. I don't have to read what the critics say, I know by the time they do how I'm goin' over and last night was my best performance yet - at least until I blacked out there."
Tom tried again to warn Mick that the light might be responsible but the latter broke in. . .
"Aw, man, you're crazy! You've been reading too much Sci-Fi! Get a grip, Tom!"
Tom said, "Well, maybe so but I think we'd cease and desist until I can run some tests."
Mick practically shouted, "No, man, no! Let's use it on stage. That's the best test it could have!"
His shouting woke Cindy who stumbled from the bedroom, tying her robe. "Hi, Tom."
"How ya feeling, Cindy?"
"O.K., I guess."
Tom bore in, "Cindy, do you remember anything about the commotion last night back stage?"
She was instantly alert, glancing at Mick, she shook her head "no". She was clearly hesitant to discuss it in Mick's presence.
Mick stood abruptly and said, "I'm gonna take a shower, love", as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'll just be a minute", and disappeared into the bathroom.
When they were alone Tom said quietly, "Now tell me what happened."
"I don't know. It was like he had become a different person--violent and crazy! And I don't even know what set him off. Wait. . .he accused me of not watching his performance. I was watching but I don't like to sit in the audience - so many people know me now. I've never seen him like this. He's always been so gentle and loving. I just can't explain it. She sighed and stopped, her voice breaking. "Then it passed as quickly as it came. He doesn't remember a thing."
Tom said, "I may have an explanation but it sounds so far fetched, I think I'll just reserve it for now. But I'll stick close to him tonight and make sure he doesn't hurt you or anyone else."
"You think this might happen again?", she cried.
"Well, it's hard to know but just to be sure, you should stick close to me when he comes off stage. Ah, Cindy, I don't like to ask this but he isn't ah, taking anything is he?"
"No, no; at least not that I know of, not for a long time now."
The sound of the shower stopped and they changed the subject to local happenings.
Tom shortly took his leave and returned to his apartment, picked up the strobe, and drove to the lab where he was greeted by the security guard. "Hi, Mr. Warner. Jeez, I thought only guards had to work Sundays?"
Hi, Andy, I've just got to run some quick tests on a product. I shouldn't be an hour."
Tom spread the components on a work bench and quickly replaced the plug, cube tap. He mumbled to himself. "Here goes. If I get fired, I can always get myself a job as a bench technician. They'd probably start me at about eight bucks an hour?" Then he hooked the system up to the lab's equipment and sat down at a computer terminal and entered test mode. He performed every test possible in the lab. They all showed the components to function properly. Tom thought, I can't run the test I really need--to check the reaction of a living being. I should've brought Mac but then I still wouldn't have the means to hook him up to all the Bio feedback equipment that's needed to get a true picture. Sometime I'm gonna have to go before the board and request funds for all that stuff and I don't look forward to that. I can hear J.B. now, "You want a what? That's what I thought you said, a chimpanzee!"
Tom arrived early at the theater that night and wired the strobe into their system as he had done the night before, all the while hoping to discover some error that might account for the bad results. When everything was in place Mick came on stage right on time since he'd taken a lot of flack in the media for the previous day's show. He was called a "prima donna" for showing up late and leaving early. Also the gossip mongers were spreading the rumor that he'd flown into a drug induced rage and brutally beaten his lover severely and then threatened reporters who came to his home to interview her. Some were calling him O.J.
Once the star walked to center stage, any resentment over the previous evening was soon forgotten. Their idol could do no wrong, or even if he did, the resulting notoriety made them love him all the more. Tom, was little more than a fixture at his control panel.
Tom was glued to his controls as he dialed in the settings to levels which would allow the system to take its cues from the entertainer's movements and once again pulsed in sync with the singer's dance. Very soon Mick was oblivious to the lights, lost in his act, but the audience connected as before. The feedback of approval motivated Mick to become even more animated and soon the screaming and applauding, became swaying and chanting as they repeated certain words usually at the ends of lines.
Tom felt his pulse quicken as he noticed the distortion of features begin. This was soon followed by a barely discernible change in Mick's voice and in those who sang back up. A ragged edge that the audience apparently perceived as sensual.
It was then that Tom noticed another change. The focus of the light had broadened to include the side men as well and then spread even to the first few rows of the audience. This change had happened spontaneously. Tom grappled with the credibility issue. He shaded his eyes to try and see into remote corners of the theater, but even there, no one else seemed aware of the change.
Tom felt the edge of panic. It was happening again. With his finger on the button, it was getting away from him. The thing has a mind and a will of its own, he thought. All I can do right now is monitor the people when they go off stage and make sure there is no repeat of last night.
The first set closed and the performers exited the stage with Tom right behind them, eyes darting from one to another but there was no indication of trouble; at least none where he was looking. Then an exit door burst open and there was a scuffle and the sound of angry voices from the street. Nate and Tom looked at each other. Tom said, "You keep an eye on Mick and Cindy and I'll see what's going on outside!"
The street was a mob scene. A crowd of several hundred obstructed traffic, and some enraged cab drivers had tried to force their way through and had struck several pedestrians. This led to the cabbie being pulled from the car and knifed. One man, covered with blood was having a screaming, cursing match with another while a third jumped up and down on top of the taxi as though it were a trampoline. Sirens wailed and warbled as police converged on the scene. Among the stalled vehicles was a truck bound for a midtown construction site. It was a tri-axle end dump with pup trailer. Both bodies were heaped high with number 4 rock used for back filling retaining walls. The crowd soon discovered this treasure and scrambled like so many monkeys aboard for the stones and began throwing them at the police and then at shop windows and neon signs.
Tom groaned as he surveyed the riot. I've got to destroy that thing before somebody figures out who is responsible for this, he thought. Tom dashed back into the theater which was easy enough since most everyone else had quit the auditorium for the excitement outside. He found to his astonishment, the light was off but as he approached, it flashed once. Tom froze. But of course. Somehow in the design he had inadvertently built in a progressive feature.
Since the sensors issued commands in proportion to the speed of motion detected; it followed that when motion ceased, the sensors would shut it down. This was not something designed in but an implied progression which some computer experts told him was nonsense and didn't exist while others swore they had observed in certain advanced systems. Tom wondered if it worked in reverse, hoping maybe that could explain the mysterious triggering the night before, perhaps Mac had set if off after all just by moving around the room. Ah, but it would still have to get plugged in somehow. . .But there was no time now to dwell on it. Better get this thing packed up and out of here before the cops arrive.
He need not have worried. The police were engaged by the crazed rock throwers and after several officers were struck and injured by rocks, they fired into the crowd and a score of people were wounded.
T om wondered about Mick and Cindy but had no idea how to find them in the chaos. He felt his first responsibility now was to get the strobe home and dismantle it before something else could go wrong.
He didn't take the time to unlock the trunk and stow the strobe there as he preferred but just threw the bag into the back seat and jumped behind the wheel. If he could move quickly he could get out right now by driving half a block the wrong direction up the alley and turn right on 42nd Street to disappear into the slew of traffic.
Tom began to relax a bit as he threw coins for the first toll on the Cross Bronx Parkway. Already there were news reports on radio about the midtown riot. "NO!", he said on hearing that seven were known dead and the emergency rooms were swamped with the injured.
Tom was driving fast, just over seventy in the extreme left lane when it happened. The light came on. In the confined space of the car's interior, it was overpowering. He was immediately angry and irrational. "I've had it with you!", he screamed. He reached into the back seat and slapped at the apparatus but missed it. The frustration made him all the angrier as he groped for the nuisance. He was temporarily blinded by the thing and when a car horn blared Tom realized he'd strayed out of his lane and was crowding a vehicle on his right and to make it more serious they were now on a bridge. Tom got just one glimpse of the teenagers in the other car; they seemed captivated by the flashing blue light.
Tom jerked the steering wheel to the left in a desperate attempt to avoid sideswiping the other car and the overcompensation caused him to lose control and hit the median barrier. The car bounced hard and straddled the six inch high concrete slab. The car skated sideways on its undercarriage in a shower of sparks until the slab widened, causing the car to leap off into opposing traffic. Tom's car collided with a south bound 18 wheeler. The truck jackknifed and took out several smaller vehicles before it stopped and the wreck completely choked off the south bound side of the New York Thruway. It was an epic mess.
It required the devise called 'the Jaws of Life' to pry open the waded car enough to allow extrication of the body. They located a wallet and for emergency contact they found Mica and Cindy's names and phone number.
The knock at the door shook Mick and Cindy from sound sleep. Mick squinted at the policeman who said, "Sorry to disturb you Sir, but there's been an accident and you were named as emergency contact. Do you know a Thomas Warner?"
"There was an automobile collision a few hours ago on the Throughway and Mr. Warner was killed. It appears that he lost control of his car and jumped the median and collided with a truck."
Cindy was just coming out of the bedroom and heard. She gasped and braced against the wall.
Mick was stunned, unable to speak for a moment. "Tom dead?. . . how can that be? I just saw him a few hours ago. . ."
The officer went on, "We'll need for you to come to city morgue to identify the body as soon as possible. We have no next of kin that I know of. And if you want to claim the wreck on behalf of Mr. Warner, the address is on this card."
Mick and Cindy arranged for Tom's funeral, cleaned out his apartment, took in his cat, and went to clear up the disposition of his car. When they got to the police impound lot they were stunned at the condition of the wreck. Everything from the grill to the windshield was pushed into what had been the front seat. In the back floor board they found the strobe light, apparently undamaged. That was all the property there was aboard. As Mick stowed the tote bag in his car, Cindy asked, "What's that, Hon?"
Mick signed the form authorizing the wreck to go to the crusher, and then answered, "Oh, it's that fabulous strobe light he was working on. I'm sure he'd want me to have it. As they drove homeward Cindy mentioned what Tom had said about his suspicions concerning the light. Mick said, "Yeah, he said something about that to me too. You know, Tom was an intelligent fella but I think he took his work too seriously sometimes."
There was another show that night and Mick took the tote bag in early and turned it over to Nate. "This is Tom's strobe light. You think maybe you can figure out how to hook it up?"
The stage manager said, "Oh I think so, from what Tom said, the damn thing almost runs by itself. . ."
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein
A native New Yorker, I moved to Florida about fifteen years ago and now consider myself a "Floridian." At first, writing was a hobby with me, but it soon became such a joy that I decided to pursue the career professionally. Now retired I can write full time. I spend most of my leisure time at my computer, sipping Bottled Water, a "DO NOT DISTURB" sign on the door, and frantically typing to all hours of the night. I can't seem to get my thoughts out fast enough. My family often wonders if I've fallen asleep at my keyboard!
Novels of all genres, poems, short stories, plays - I have no special
favorites. I write whatever inspires me, usually fiction.
My Email address is: TulipProductions@aol.com
Finished manuscripts include:
PARK AVENUE COUNTRY - Country Western Romance Novel.**
** Denotes published, or accepted and pending publishing.
Works in progress include:
EVIL IS AS EVIL DOES - Murder Mystery Novel.